Thursday, March 3, 2011

Aloe Vera for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Aloe vera (Aloe barbedensis) in the form of gel or juice derived from the inner gelatinous portion of the leaf (not including the outer leaf portions that contain anthraquinones, an organic compound that has laxative effects (2)) is commonly indicated in many reputable sources online and in herbal texts for contributing to the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (see references). IBS or “spastic colon” is a disorder involving the small intestine and large bowel associated with variable degrees of abdominal pain and discomfort, and constipation or diarrhea, largely as a reaction to stress in a susceptible individual and/or from poor diet, but in the absence of any detectable organic cause (3).

While aloe vera may not be the sole treatment for IBS, it can aid in reducing associated symptoms. The inner portion of aloe vera is very high in many nutrients that the body needs to maintain homeostasis, or to keep all the systems of the body, such as the digestive system, in good, balanced, working order. Some of these nutrients are polysaccharides, a main source of energy for the body (4); amino acids, building blocks of the body that make up proteins and are necessary for growth, repair, and maintenance of cells (5); minerals, including calcium, magnesium, manganese, sodium, and zinc; enzymes, proteins that speed up the rate of reactions in the body and are vital to such functions as digestion (6); and vitamins (7). Restoring the health of the intestines plays a major role in the treatment of IBS, since many of the symptoms are possibly related to the structural and functional integrity of this organ (3). The cells of the intestine are among the fastest growing cells in the body and need to be continually replenished (3). The main fuel they need is an amino acid called I-glutamine, something that is difficult to get through a regular diet (8). Aloe vera contains this substance thereby enhancing the ability for cell regeneration. One function of the polysaccharides in aloe on the body is their ability to repair the tiny “holes” in the gut associated with “leaky gut syndrome”, where unwanted substances and toxins are absorbed through the gut walls and into the blood stream, effecting not only the immune system, but being a contributing factor to many diseases including digestive problems (8). Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties that calm intestinal spasms that cause much of the abdominal pain and other related symptoms, possibly including constipation and diarrhea (8). The anti-inflammatory quality may largely be attributed to its high zinc and manganese content (7). Aloe vera works gently in the intestinal tract to help break down food residues that have become impacted and to help clean out the bowel (8). When the bowel is cleaned out it reduces bloating, discomfort, and helps ease stress (8). Removing stress is an important step in the treatment of IBS because it appears that it is a major contributing factor to the development of many IBS symptoms (3). Aloe vera is cooling, moisturizing, and soothing and is therefore beneficial in the treatment of the uncomfortable and painful symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (9). It is also beneficial in increasing immune support, fluid and nutrient absorption, inflammatory support, as well as benefiting the digestive system as whole (10).

The recommended dose is 2 to 8 ounces per day of the juice or gel of the “inner fillet” (10); be sure to check the label before purchasing and before drinking so as not to mistake this product for the juice or gel of the “whole leaf”.

Aloe vera should not be consumed during pregnancy due to the laxative, or purgative, effect (9).

A good-quality 100% Certified Organic brand of aloe available in most health food stores is Lily of the Desert inner fillet juice and gel, available in 16, 32, and 128 ounce bottles (10).


(1) Aloe vera image (Internet):
viewed 7 March 2010.

(2) Anthraquinone. Wikipedia (Internet). (updated 2 February 2010; sited 7 March

(3) Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press; 2003. P. 276 - 8.

(4) Carbohydrates. Faqs. org (Internet). (updated 2010; sited 8 March 2010). Available from:

(5) Amino Acids Overview. Reference Guide for Amino Acids (Internet). (updated 2009; sited 8 March 2010). Available from:

(6) Enzyme. (Internet). (updated 2010; sited 8 March 2010). Available from:

(7) Holmes, Peter. The Energetics of Western Herbs, Vol. 1. Cotati, CA: Snow Lotus Press; 2007. P. 479.

(8) Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Aloe Vera Health Benefits (Internet). (updated 2010; sited 8 March 2010). Available from:

(9) Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books; 2008. P. 65 – 7.

(10) Liquid Dietary Supplements. Lily of the Desert (Internet). (updated 2009; sited 8 March 2010). Available from:

Contributed by Laura Mroz, student of Phytotherapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine @ Pacific Rim College

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